DESIGN MAJORS

“Should I go talk to her?” asked Sean Penn at a party Wednesday night at the Chloe boutique on New York’s Madison Avenue. The object of his query: Madonna, his ex-wife. Penn eventually plucked up the courage to swagger over and surprise her with an arm slipped around her waist.
“Oops!” said VH1’s John Sykes, who had brought Penn, as the cameras started to focus on the little family reunion. But to the apparent disappointment of the paparazzi — and some guests — the two were all smiles.
Upstairs, the real star of the evening, Chloe designer Stella McCartney, was holding court with her father, Sir Paul. Surrounded by so many enthusiastic admirers, Stella admitted to feeling a little overwhelmed. One word came to mind to describe the event.
“Dread,” she said. “I really don’t like being the center of attention. I’d rather go to someone else’s party and not have any responsibility.”
Still, she pulled off her starring role, blowing kisses across the room. And she was poised to fend off the rumors about her departure from Chloe.
“No comment,” she replied with a grin. “Not at the moment.”
Further downtown, at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship, another fashion face from Paris, Gilles Dufour, was presenting his premiere collection for Balmain to a demure crowd that included C.Z. Guest and her daughter, Cornelia; Diane Von Furstenberg; Muriel Brandolini, and the illustrator Pierre Le-Tan and his wife, Plum — and, of course, Balmain’s couturier, Oscar de la Renta.
The idea behind the collection, Dufour confided, was a tad less demure.
“Ingenues. Libertines. Young girls who have just tasted a few hours of living, a bit of perverseness,” he rhapsodized. “It’s very, very French.”
On the same evening in Los Angeles, the fall movie season lurched into motion with the premiere of “American Beauty,” a black comedy about life in suburbia, starring Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening, as well as youngsters Mena Suvari, Thora Birch and Wes Bentley.
Spacey was hanging out with trainer Mike Torchia, who got him into shape to play a jaded dad who remakes his life — and his body — after developing a crush on a beautiful teenage girl (Suvari).
“Mike worked my butt off twice a day every day for about four months,” reported Spacey. “The studio rented me a gym trailer. That’s the kind of perk usually reserved for my other mates in the movie industry.”
Bening, who plays Spacey’s wife, said she had been observing women like her character for years.
“When I was a kid, I baby-sat a lot. And I watched a lot of women go through boredom, heartache, split-ups and nervous breakdowns,” she recalled. “I based her on them. From the moment I read the script, I got it.”